The Original Industrial Revolution. Did Cold Winters Select for Cognitive Ability?
It has been proposed that the farther north the populations migrated out of Africa, the more they encountered the cognitively demanding problems of gathering and storing food, gaining shelter, making clothes, and raising children successfully during prolonged winters. (p. 266)
- Colder and longer winters increased the need for planning, particularly for storage of food and fuel.
- Plant foods were unavailable during winter and spring, thus making meat crucial for survival. A greater range of tools had to be developed for hunting and cutting up of meat.
- Game animals were pursued in open environments. Hunters had to strategize and coordinate with other hunters, e.g., to drive animals over cliffs or into ravines.
- To keep warm, people had to find novel ways to make fire, clothing, and shelter. Fire, for instance, had to be made by friction or percussion in a treeless environment with little wood  (pp. 225–226).
As I remember things Lynn first mentioned it in general terms but did not provide details as to why high intelligence may be advantageous. I think I filled the argument in with details like a need to plan (how long a stored food supply will last), the importance of being able to start a fire and keep it going in adverse conditions, and the added complexity of making warm clothes. [...] What I felt was an original contribution related to the importance of male-female cooperation during winters. Virtually all food has to be from large hunted game since digging for tubers will not work in frozen ground, eggs, berries, and fruits are absent, cold blooded reptiles and slugs are absent, and any fallen nuts are hidden by snow. Only large mammals remain.
Lynn is not the first to argue that the benefits of intelligence were greatest for those populations living in cold climates during the Ice Ages (for an early exposition see Huntington 1924, Chapter IV ). It is common to argue that the impetus for the enlargement of the brain size “during the era of Homo erectus was due to an expansion out of the tropics and into cool regions where ingenuity and flexibility of behavior were more necessary for survival” (Campbell 1976, p. 324) . More recently, Calvin (1991)  has argued that human intelligence was strongly selected for in cold areas during the Ice Ages, although without recognizing that this hypothesis had implications for the geographical distribution of intelligence  (p.127).
So when a glacial epoch comes on, some animals must acquire warmer fur, or a covering of fat, or else die of cold. Those best clothed by nature are, therefore, preserved by natural selection. Man, under the same circumstances, will make himself warmer clothing, and build better houses; and the necessity of doing this will react upon his mental organisation and social condition […].
[…] a hardier, a more provident, and a more social race would be developed, than in those regions where the earth produces a perennial supply of vegetable food, and where neither foresight nor ingenuity are required to prepare for the rigours of winter. And is it not the fact that in all ages, and in every quarter of the globe, the inhabitants of temperate have been superior to those of tropical countries? All the great invasions and displacements of races have been from North to South, rather than the reverse.
All this is due to the fact that necessity is the mother of invention, because those tribes that emigrated early to the north, and there gradually became white, had to develop all their intellectual powers, and invent and perfect all the arts in their struggle with need, want and misery, which in their many forms, were brought about by the climate. This they had to do in order to make up for the parsimony of nature, and out of it came their high civilization. (p. 159)
For those who live furthest to the north between the last of the seven climates and the limits of the inhabited world, the excessive distance of the sun in relation to the zenith line makes the air cold and the atmosphere thick. Their temperaments are therefore frigid, their humors raw, their bellies gross, their color pale, their hair long and lank. Thus they lack keenness of understanding and clarity of intelligence, and are overcome by ignorance and dullness, lack of discernment, and stupidity. Such are the Slavs, the Bulgars, and their neighbors. For those peoples on the other hand who live near and beyond the equinoctial line to the limit of the inhabited world in the south, the long presence of the sun at the zenith makes the air hot and the atmosphere thin. Because of this their temperaments become hot and their humors fiery, their color black, and their hair woolly. Thus they lack self-control and steadiness of mind and are overcome by fickleness, foolishness, and ignorance. Such are the blacks, who live at the extreme of the land of Ethiopia, the Nubians, the Zanj and the like. (pp. 47–48)
2. A Closer Look at the Cold Winter Theory: Paleolithic Hunter-Gatherers
However, that earlier world was not simply a colder version of today’s. V. Geist (1978)  describes the periglacial climate as something quite different from Baffin Island or Northeastern Siberia in January, or from any other existing environment. It was not particularly harsh, but was rather benign and ecologically rich: “... between the Urals and the Altai in the Pleistocene, early man would have had as mixed a bag as camel, moose, reindeer, yak and roe deer (Geist, 1978, p. 201) .” “The periglacial ecosystem approached some African ecosystems in diversity, and was apparently far more productive than the climax ecosystems at comparable latitudes and altitudes.”.
The success of modern human technology and organization is most dramatically apparent after the beginning of the Last Glacial Maximum (OIS 2), when modern humans occupied the central East European Plain under full glacial conditions. They created a remarkable adaptation to this bizarre environment that employed ingenious technology and complex organizational structures. (p. 254)
- Keeping the cold out and the warmth in. Clothing had to be tailored to retain body heat. This required development of bone awls and eyed needles of bone and ivory, as well as stone end-scrapers and burnishers to prepare hides  (pp. 160, 225). For the same reason, shelters had to be sturdier and more cold-resistant, being generally made of mammoth bone and heated with bone-fuel hearths  (p. 192). By contrast, tropical hunter-gatherers did not correspondingly develop heat-removal technologies (rotary fans, ice creation or storage, air conditioning, etc.), probably because heat removal is technologically more difficult than heat retention. Adaptations to heat were thus much more biological (having a higher surface area to volume ratio) or behavioral (remaining in the shade at midday).
- Managing time. There was a greater need to plan and schedule because food and fuel were available for limited periods  (p. 135), . As Marek Zvelebil puts it: “In such areas, one or two seasonally abundant resources may be relied on to produce the critical storable surplus for the lean seasons. This would require short periods of intensive harvest and precise scheduling during those times of the year when these resources were available”  (p. 170). This time constraint was solved through (1) time budgeting, (2) preparation of specific tools in advance for specific tasks, (3) use of untended devices, such as pits, traps, weirs, and nets, and (4) digging of storage pits down to the permafrost layer to refrigerate perishables, either meat for year-round consumption or bones for winter fuel  (pp. 161, 192, 229)  (p. 170). These solutions are dubbed by Zvelebil “the original industrial revolution.” By contrast, tropical hunter-gatherers had less need to manage time. The heat rapidly spoiled meat and other foodstuffs, thus putting a premium on immediate use or exchange. Moreover, food and fuel sources were distributed more evenly over space and time than in the Arctic and sub-Arctic.
- Changing the sexual division of labor. In the tropics, men hunted game animals while women gathered fruits, berries, nuts, seeds, roots, and other small food items. This division of labor became less feasible as humans spread north into environments with colder and longer winters, where women had few opportunities for food gathering. This was especially so on open steppe-tundra. In such environments, women took on tasks unrelated to food procurement: garment making, shelter building, fire making, pottery, and ornamentation. These tasks required new tools, like hand-powered rotary drills for manufacture of ornamental objects and perhaps for fire making  (pp. 161, 169), . There was also development of ceramic technology, including kilns heated to between 500 and 800 degrees C. . Three sites in Moravia have yielded more than 10,000 ceramic artefacts, mostly figurines . There were also advances in weaving, notably manufacture of ropes for rafts and nets . Indeed, the Paleolithic saw northern Eurasians develop a wide range of woven goods: “The Eurasian inventory includes diverse cordage, knotted netting, plaited wicker-style basketry, and textiles, including simple and diagonal twined pieces and plain woven and twilled objects. Furthermore, some of these pieces show conjoining of two pieces of fabric by a whipping stitch to produce a seam, or sewing” . By contrast, women had less opportunity as tropical hunter-gatherers to develop new tasks, apparently because they had to devote so much time to food gathering.
3. Recent Hunter-Gatherers
Specific tasks that become increasingly dominated by female labor as meat dependence increases include house building, leatherworking, and burden carrying. [...] The increased involvement in house building and burden carrying suggests women’s labor is linked to moving and establishing new residential camps. Measures of hunter-gatherer mobility, both in terms of the number of residential camps established and the distances between moves, are known to be positively associated with reliance on hunting (Binford 2001:269–280 ; Kelly 1995:111–160 ). Women not only perform these roles more commonly than men when the majority of the diet is derived through hunting but also are likely to perform these tasks more frequently as well  (p. 671).
4. The Original Industrial Revolution: Preadaptation for Later Developments
Further, but much later in time, populations with a (proto?) Northeast Asian morphology, potentially originating in eastern Siberia, would appear to have migrated into northern and central China, eventually becoming associated with the rise of the Neolithic in central China. These cranio-dentally modern East Asian populations expanded and moved southwards, eventually meeting with pottery-using forager communities (that were cranio-dentally Australo-Melanesian), which had relatively high-density settlements, throughout southern China and northern Vietnam.
Under this model, extant “Negrito” populations—small bodied hunter-gatherer populations scattered in the Philippines, Malaysia, and Andaman Islands—are interpreted as “relic” descendants of the initial AMH late Pleistocene entry [...] The most parsimonious version of the TL hypothesis (TL1) considers that the early Holocene source population (=southeastern Chinese homeland) of the Neolithic dispersal into SEA is descended from the initial AMH Late Pleistocene expansion, implying a population continuity from the pre-Neolithic to Neolithic cultural periods in China, as recently reported in northeast Asia [...] Nevertheless, this model is challenged by the accumulating genetic, paleoanthropological, and archaeological evidence pointing to at least two late Pleistocene AMH dispersals into Asia. [...] The only way to accommodate the TL hypothesis (TL2) with recent genetic evidence is to consider that the source population (=southeastern Chinese homeland) of the Neolithic dispersal into SEA is descendant of a migration from northern China between 9 and 10 ka [...] that derived from a northern late Pleistocene expansion into East Asia. (pp. 42–43)
[...] our results fit better with a demic diffusion model involving an early Holocene migration from northern China into southeastern China, from which the Neolithic dispersal into SEA (TL2 model) took place. (p. 53)
5. Brain Size and Latitude in Humans
Despite the myth of detached objectivity that scientists propagate, their motivations are as messy as everyone else’s. In particular, they have political, social, and personal concerns that may influence what they do, how they do it, and what they say about it. Putting aside deliberate fraud, of which we have an embarrassment of examples, the gathering of data, their statistical representation, and their interpretation offer many opportunities for unconscious bias toward conclusions that we already “knew” to be true.
The evidence suggests that thermoregulation has more effect upon the cranium than upon the body as a whole. The highest correlations occur with the coefficient of cranial morphology, absolute volume, and capacity relative to stature. Lower correlations are observed with surface area:mass ratio, cephalic index, nasal index, and ponderal index. Lower yet (but still significant) are the correlations with weight and body surface area. (p. 312)
6. Brain Size and Latitude in Other Species
We found that birds from the harsh northern population, where selection for cognitive abilities is expected to be high, significantly outperformed conspecifics from the mild southern population. Our results imply differences in cognitive abilities that may be inherited, as individuals from both populations were raised in and had experienced identical environmental conditions from 10 days of age. (p. 3187)
7. Rushton, the Cold Winter Theory, and the Problem of Population Differences in IQ
8. The Problem of Recent Selection
- He was already ridiculed for thinking that human evolution continued as late as the last ice age. It was widely thought in academia that humans had essentially stopped evolving much earlier, long before they spread from Africa to the other continents. This was the general thinking not only among Rushton’s fierce opponents but also among his friendly critics, particularly those in evolutionary psychology. As someone who believed the contrary, he turned to the cold winter theory for support, but that theory would go only so far in broadening the time frame of human evolution and extending the environment of evolutionary adaptedness beyond the savannah of Africa.
- He wished to keep his argument simple, probably fearing that any exceptions, inconsistencies, or secondary explanations would be turned against him.
- He also preferred simplicity for aesthetic reasons. If an explanation could not fit into a single unified theory, he would set it aside. We see this in his tendency to unify the cold winter theory with other ideas. Previously, he held a progressionist view of human evolution, seeing “younger” races as more advanced than “older” races. This earlier thinking then merged in his mind with the cold winter theory. Because Northeast Asians are “younger” than Europeans, they must have been more innovative under glacial conditions. He thus wrote:
Survival in Northeast Asia about 40,000 years ago also required warm clothing. Archeologists have found needles, cave paintings of parkas, and grave ornaments marking the outlines of shirts and trousers. We know that warm furs were worn. Fox and wolf skeletons missing their paws tell us that these animals were skinned to make fur clothes. Houses were dug into the ground to provide insulation. These large dwellings were marked by post holes and had walls made from mammoth bones. Fireplaces and stone lamps were used to light the long Arctic winter night. (p. 87)
8.1. Recent Selection in East Asia
[...] only the wealthier families of a Chinese village could afford the costs associated with obtaining wives for their sons, with female infanticide and other factors regularly ensuring up to a 15 percent shortfall in the number of available women. Thus, the poorest village strata usually failed to reproduce at all, while poverty and malnourishment also tended to lower fertility and raise infant mortality as one moved downward along the economic gradient. At the same time, the wealthiest villagers sometimes could afford multiple wives or concubines and regularly produced much larger numbers of surviving offspring. Each generation, the poorest disappeared, the less affluent failed to replenish their numbers, and all those lower rungs on the economic ladder were filled by the downwardly mobile children of the fecund wealthy. (p. 22–23)
8.2. Recent Selection in Europe
9. Parting Thoughts
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Frost, P. The Original Industrial Revolution. Did Cold Winters Select for Cognitive Ability? Psych 2019, 1, 166-181. https://doi.org/10.3390/psych1010012
Frost P. The Original Industrial Revolution. Did Cold Winters Select for Cognitive Ability? Psych. 2019; 1(1):166-181. https://doi.org/10.3390/psych1010012Chicago/Turabian Style
Frost, Peter. 2019. "The Original Industrial Revolution. Did Cold Winters Select for Cognitive Ability?" Psych 1, no. 1: 166-181. https://doi.org/10.3390/psych1010012